BE REBELLIOUS AND FOLLOW YOUR CURIOSITY: LESSONS LEARNED FROM BEATRICE WOOD

Pottery for me is not a pursuit of glory, but a daily discipline of pursuing accuracy. In India it would be called my dharma. Life is dual. There is matter and spirit and one cannot function completely without the other. For creativity, the spirit side, to work, the matter side must be strong enough to hold the spirit side. If the form has cracks, the spirit leaks.

I fell in love with the beautiful valleys of Ojai when I first visited a few years ago. Everything about this idyllic place is special: the oak-shaded paths and orange groves, beautiful parks, art galleries, the serene sanctuary of the Ojai Foundation and Krishnamurti's house. It is a place to slow down, relax, and to reconnect with yourself. This lovely town holds a special place in my heart because this is also where I first discovered Beatrice Wood. At the time, I just started to learn how to throw pottery so you can imagine that I was pretty obsessed with all things ceramics. My fiancé, who had been to Ojai many times before, took me to Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts knowing that I would appreciate the work of this unique potter. Pictured below are some of her work:

Beatrice Wood, the "Mama of Dada," was an important contemporary artist, craftwoman, and writer.  She was well known for her exquisite luster glazes. She developed a signature style of glazing, an all-over, in-glaze luster that draws the metallic salts to the surface of the glaze, a technique in which the kiln is denied oxygen during the firing process. Her work is colorful, feminine, and whimsical...just like her home and her life. And I wanted to learn everything about her!

I am currently reading her autobiography, I Shock Myself, that chronicles her upper class upbringing, bohemian coming of age, search for everlasting love, and unique journey to find herself living in Ojai. The details of her life transcend the typical: influential friendships and passionate affairs, artistic successes, and a new career in ceramics at the age of 40. She enrolled in a class at Hollywood High School to learn how to make a teapot to go with a set of baroque luster glazed dessert plates that she had bought in Holland, and went on to create within that medium for more than 60 years. She led an adventurous life and I was enchanted by her story. Here are some lessons to be learned from the inspirational Beatrice Wood:

BE REBELLIOUS AND FOLLOW YOUR CURIOSITY

Beatrice was born in 1893 in San Francisco to wealthy, socially conscious parents. Being a woman in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s usually meant a lifetime of modesty, restriction, and dependency. However, Beatrice stepped out of that role dictated to her by tradition and culture. Instead, she followed her curiosity and her heart. She made many mistakes along the way; she was a painter and a theater actress before finding her true calling as a potter. But she wouldn't have been able to find a career in the arts if she didn't rebel against social norms and followed her heart.

IT TAKES HARD WORK

Pottery didn't come naturally to Beatrice. She didn't believe that she had "great gifts as a potter" but she organized herself to become one. It took a lot of hard work, practice, and trial and error in order to master her craft. She would station herself at the wheel and work with the kiln for hours every day. She also enrolled in courses to further her education.

MASTER YOUR CRAFT

Wood studied ceramics under several teachers and mentors but she never tried to control her work. Instead, her work was more loose and unconventional. She drew from tradition but maintained her creative freedom by exploring different glaze combinations and forms. Oftentimes, she left it to chance (and the kiln gods). She mastered her craft by combining what she learned with her own creativity and made a body of work that was uniquely her own.

BE TRUE TO YOURSELF

"Do be true to yourself, whether it's bad doesn't matter. The important thing - you have to copy while you're studying. And culture is - each of us - is like one pearl added to another to make a chain. We each contribute to the other. And that's all right. But once you're on your own, do that which comes from within. And I feel this very strongly."

ABSORB YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND NEVER STOP LEARNING

"And I have exposed myself to art so that my work has something beyond just the usual potter."

Let your surroundings inspire you. Beatrice's trips to India inspired her and forever changed her work. She absorbed those moments and let the inspiration influence her work and her life. She also had many influential friends; artists who taught her lessons in art. Her friend, Galka Scheyer, made her see that "the accident often provides desired effects in art and pointed out that the Japanese treasured the flaws in a glaze." You can see the wabi-sabi effects in her beautiful luster glazing.

EMBRACE A POSITIVE VIEW OF LIFE

Beatrice is said to have lived a life that “combined wisdom of the East, positive thinking,  a Dadaist sense of humor and a romantic view of life." She had many disappointments in her life but she never let it get her down. Her personal philosophy served her well, as she continued working in her studio to the age of 104.

There are many other instances in the book that I truly love. One such event was when she discovered that she needed to create an invoice for the order she gave to the store. I find that hilarious and completely relatable because she also had to go through the learning curve of owning a business. It's all trial and error and I love reading about how she had to establish herself as a business woman. I highly recommend this autobiography to those who are interested in learning more about this beautiful, unique master of pottery.